Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Working Americans are either going without it, fear going without it, barely can afford it, and, or have numerous complaints about what they're getting in return for what they're paying.

I'm talking about health insurance.

You would think the voices of a gazillion people would have long ago been heard by their supposed representatives.

But then again those representatives as we know don't have the problem.

We've all heard by now about the great health insurance Congress gets, but maybe you should look a little closer to home. Check out what's going on with your city and state officials.

In Michigan, for instance, it seems that after a few years of oh, so hard work legislating, in addition to all their other perks and benefits, the legislators get a lifetime of free health insurance. Not a bad deal, huh?

No one else working for the state gets a deal like this, just the folks who are the "deciders." Well, duh, they decided they deserved it and by golly they're gonna get it.

But don't think they're not concerned about health care costs or the state's budget crunch. Red Tape Blog reports last week, the Michigan Legislature took action and voted to scale back school employees health care benefits in retirement. School employees have been eligible for retiree health care benefits after working 30 years, or after 10 years if they work until age 60.

Richard Carlson, a GM retiree from Dimondale, said he had to work 30 years to earn health care benefits.

Lawmakers seem to get better benefits after a couple of terms, he said.

"They set up all these programs for cuts here and cuts there, but it doesn't seem to affect them," he said. "Enough is enough."

Enough people agree with Mr. Carlson that a petition drive is underway to force the legislators to get their act together. The petition reads in part:

"While Michigan faced a dire budget crisis, the State Senate conveniently forgot to act on a plan that would end lawmakers free lifetime health care and slash their own salaries. While they protected their pay and benefits, the Legislature slashed health care for teachers, public employees and threatened crucial services that will make it harder for Michigan’s 1 million uninsured to have access to health care. A plan to cut legislators pay and end their free lifetime health care sits in Senate. Senate Majority Leader, Mike Bishop says they need to “study” the plan. The Senate needs to act, not study. Tell the Legislature it needs to lead by example and share in the suffering of Michigan citizens. Tell them to stop stonewalling and act now."

We don't need a bunch of talking heads to figure out why so many are so fed up with their government and why so many have given up on the whole idea of voting.

What's happening in Michigan helps to tell it all.

The following comes from the Michigan Messenger.

Legislator health benefits uncommonly generous
by: Eartha Jane Melzer

As Michigan lawmakers move to balance the state's budget by changing the health insurance system for school employees, the lawmakers are eligible to receive state-paid health insurance for life after only six years of service.

According to Leslie Fritz, spokesperson for the Dept. of State Budget, this benefit is not available to any other type of state worker in Michigan. It is also outside the norm for legislators in other states contacted.

The state, which nearly shut down operations early in October because of a huge budget deficit, remains over $400 million in the red and faces another possible shutdown at the end of the month.

The Michigan Messenger was able to contact the administrators of health insurance plans for five of the seven other states that have full-time legislatures. In Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York legislators are treated the same as other state employees and must pay their own health insurance if they leave public employment before retirement age, typically 55.

Despite the current legislative zeal for cost cutting, a bill to eliminate the lifetime health benefits for all legislators received no action in the House this year. Another that would apply only to legislators who begin service this year is stuck in the Government Operations and Reform Committee which is chaired by Sen. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) -- one of the loudest advocates for cuts. Sen. Bishop's office did not return a call for comment.

"There are some young representatives in the House, with no age requirement health care spending could become a large state expense," said Dominick Pallone, spokesperson for Rep. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) who introduced the bill to cut legislator benefits.

According to state sources, the Michigan Legislative Retirement System paid out nearly 4.5 million dollars in health care related benefits last year, and as term limits add more and more legislators to the retiree list, that cost could rise substantially.

One official, who preferred not to be named given the recent political heat around health benefits, estimated that so far there are less than 20 lawmakers who have left office before typical retirement age and are receiving benefits. The state is currently paying about 300,000 dollars per year for the health insurance for those people.

In Michigan over a million people -- around 11 percent of the population -- have no health insurance, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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